Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo


Cattle raising in Arizona began in 1696 when Padre Kino drove a herd through the Santa Cruz Valley, distributing it among the Indian rancherias as far north as Bac. Nearly a hundred years later, Spanish ranchers settled in southern Arizona, but their sojourn lasted no more than forty years. Apache raids drove them from the region in the early 1830s. These Indians prevented ranching to any extent until the 1870s, nearly twenty years after the Gadsden Purchase placed the area south of the Gila River in American possession. The number of cattle grew until drought in the early 1890s decimated their numbers and caused ranchers to view this semi-arid land differently. In the area of Saguaro National Monument the United States Forest Service came into possession of the Rincon Mountains in 1907 and began a system of grazing permits. The creation of Saguaro National Monument in 1933 and its subsequent administration by the National Park Service did not end grazing on that land until the late 1970s. Livestock ranging over the terrain contributed to environmental change in the area.

A. The Introduction and Proliferation of Livestock in Southern Arizona

As a means of easing the Indians of the Upper Santa Cruz Valley into a Spanish lifestyle, Padre Kino drove the first cattle into southern Arizona in 1696 before he had established a mission system there. These cattle became the nuclei of the mission herds and increased in numbers over the years. Livestock became so abundant at Tumacacori, for example, that the mission had an estimated 5,000 head of cattle, 2,500 sheep, 600 horses, 89 mules, and 15 donkeys roaming the area in 1818. The cattle herd at San Xavier mission just south of Tucson came to number in the thousands as well. [1]

Except for a few presidio-related animals, mission cattle, sheep, and horses remained the only livestock in southern Arizona until Torbio Ortero established a ranch just north of Tubac in 1789. When an era of relative peace with the Apache that lasted nearly forty years brought many other Spanish ranchers into Arizona at the beginning of the nineteenth century, stock raising became a major industry. By the early 1820s ranches occupied the Santa Cruz Valley from south of Tumacacori to just south of Tucson. Farthest south was the Buenavista ranch which occupied the upper Santa Cruz Valley and stretched north to border on the Tumacacori mission land. The Tumacacori mission property extended three miles north to Tubac. Otero's ranch was located just north of Tubac and above that operation Tomas and Ignacio Ortiz operated the Canoa ranch. It reached to the south border of the San Xavier mission property. That mission's land probably came within five miles of Tucson which was the northernmost settlement. [2]

The number of livestock grazing in that area of the Santa Cruz Valley by the 1820s can only be estimated, but it was substantial. In 1819 the Indian and Spanish settlers around Tucson owned 5,600 cattle and around 3,000 sheep. There could have been an equal number of cattle on the San Xavier land since five years before the Indians there owned around 4,000 cattle. The livestock numbers on the Ortiz and Otero ranches remain unknown. The Tubac inhabitants raised 1,000 cattle in 1804 so that number could have doubled by the 1820s. In 1820 the Tumacacori padre sold 4,000 of the 5,500 cattle to raise money to continue mission construction, but there remained over 1,000 sheep. Again, the Buenavista ranch livestock numbers can only be estimated. A figure of 25,000 cattle and 8,000 sheep in the valley could well have been possible. The largest Spanish ranch, the San Bernardino, which stretched across southeast Arizona and into Sonora reportedly had 100,000 head of cattle in the 1820s. [3]

No one knows the extent of the range of these livestock, but it is certain that they did not stay within the bounds of the ranches. As a result there may have been some animals grazing in both units of what became Saguaro National Monument. It would also seem that either these herds did not cause much environmental damage or else recovery was relatively rapid between the disappearance of the livestock after 1833 and the arrival of the 49ers in the Santa Cruz Valley. Americans passing along that valley in 1849 in the main found it to be more lush than other areas through which they had traveled.

With renewed Apache warfare in 1831, the Spanish and Mexican ranchers of southern Arizona began to flee for their lives. In their haste they were unable to take all of their livestock with them. As a result, many abandoned cattle roamed the area, especially in southeast Arizona. Philip St. George Cooke with the Mormon Battalion encountered a large herd of feral cattle on the San Pedro River as they passed through the region in 1846. Others, including people headed for the gold fields of California, saw similar herds a few years later. By the late 1850s these wild cattle apparently disappeared as travelers stopped reporting seeing them. By 1858 there were so few cattle in the Tucson area that that village suffered from a lack of fresh meat. It was noted in the early 1860s that Tucson had four milk cows and a few other cattle which were corraled at night to keep Apaches from stealing them. [4]

After the Apache truce of 1872, cattle numbers began to increase. By 1870 there were 1,800 cattle in Pima County, an area which at that time covered all land south of the Gila River except a part of Yuma County, but these animals were basically used to supply meat for the troops and reservation Indians. It was not long before pamphlets and books appeared extolling the promise of a stock grower's paradise. In 1874 one of the first tracts praised the Santa Cruz Valley and its adjacent tableland for the superb grass found there. The author felt that there was room for millions of cattle in Arizona where only a few thousand grazed at the time. In the period 1876-80 the fame of Arizona grassland spread and with it the cattle industry expanded rapidly. [5]

In the period 1880 to 1884 even more effort was expended to attract ranchers. Most of the cattle were the product of crossbreeding either Hereford or Shorthorns with Mexican stock—a blood mixture touted for its hardiness. These cattle, it was said, could be fattened on the nutritious, native gramma grass in an extremely short time. At the same time ranchers had no fear of destroying that grass, for, even when it was grazed to the roots, it was thought that it would grow again the next season with renewed vigor. [6]

Assuming that the range could not be destroyed, ranchers steadily increased the numbers of cattle until the region was vastly overstocked. They forgot that southern Arizona was a semi-arid land until the drought in the summer of 1885 brought a heavy cattle mortality. The following year was dry again. In 1887 the rains returned and that summer was the second wettest on record. As a result, cattlemen began to restock the range, not having learned the lesson of the two previous years. Heavy winter rains in 1888-89 brought even greater renewed hope of a returned paradise. Again, it became fashionable to praise the stock raising capability of the area. By 1890 the ranges of southern Arizona carried five times the number of cattle as ten years earlier. Then in 1892 another drought began with the result that many cattle died in May and June. When the dry time extended into 1893, between fifty and seventy-five percent of the cattle in southern Arizona died. The range in Pima County was in terrible condition. Finally, those cattlemen who remained learned that numbers could not be the primary objective of cattle ranching in a semi-arid climate. Breeding herds became the chief attraction and by 1897, Arizona cattle raisers began to sell registered animals. Most steers, however, were shipped north when they reached one year old. By 1902 the range carried only about one-third the livestock compared to ten years earlier. Even with these reduced numbers, periodic drought still caused losses. By the mid-1930s the semi-desert grass of southern Arizona was one of the most depleted in all the West. Even to this day a dry season can cause problems. [7]

B. National Forests and United States Forest Service Grazing Policy

Starting in 1891, the national government began to set aside forest land on the public domain as National Forest Reserves. By assuming the role of perpetual owner of these lands and their resources, the government in Washington began the reversal of a three-century-long policy of land privatization on the frontier. These reserves were assigned to the Department of the Interior where they were administered by the General Land Office. Unprepared for such an effort, the General Land Office at first closed the reserves to all use. This position, of course, promoted defiance by timber, mining, and grazing interests. In early 1897 Congress, after several feeble attempts, passed the first legislation which dealt with forest reserve use, but it focused on the timber industry. It was not until June 30, 1897 that the Secretary of the Interior issued an order which allowed grazing although it put some restrictions on sheep. Gradually, the General Land Office worked toward a systematic policy on grazing. By 1902 that agency placed a limitation on the number of livestock allowed on the reserves although no grazing fee was charged, and no regulation was made on the time, season, locality, or movement of stock. At the same time the General Land Office adopted a permit system based on "preference". Residences of a reserve received first preference followed by nearby landowners, then longtime users, and finally those who lived some distance from the reserve. This situation prevailed when the Santa Catalina Forest Reserve was created on July 2, 1902. [8]

In 1905 the forest reserves were transferred to the Department of Agriculture where they were placed under the Bureau of Forestry. Two years later these reserves were renamed national forests and the agency became known as the United States Forest Service. At the same time the Rincon Mountains were added to the Santa Catalina National Forest. The next year, 1908, the national forests in southern Arizona were combined under the name Coronado National Forest. [9]

When the Bureau of Forestry gained control of the forests, it continued with the General Land Office permit system to regulate grazing. That agency also continued with the General Land Office permit preference to settlers and property owners of adjacent land who raised livestock in connection with the forest reserves. The period 1905-09 was viewed as a trial period to determine the number of livestock which could safely graze on forest land without damaging the range. This action reduced stock by an estimated thirty percent. At the same time the Secretary of Agriculture approved Regulation 25 on June 14, 1905 by which a reasonable fee would be charged for grazing all classes of livestock on forest land starting January 1, 1906. Cattle and horses were to be assessed at thirty-five to fifty cents per head for year-round usage, while the fee for sheep was five to eight cents for the summer. This regulation went unchanged until 1910 when the charge per head for cattle and horses increased slightly. Fees again increased in 1912 with a larger assessment in 1915 which reached forty-eight to seventy-five cents. By 1916 the top figure reached $1.25 per head for cattle. Ranchers protested when the Secretary of Agriculture announced in late 1916 that fees would be increased twelve to twenty cents per year for the next three years. As a result, there was only a one year raise of twenty-five cents. This amount held until 1921 when it was again increased. [10] In Arizona ranchers were usually charged the lowest amount per head. Between 1906 and the early 1920s this fee increased from thirty-five to eighty cents for cattle and horses.

After the United States entered the First World War ranchers brought pressure to allow greater numbers of livestock on forest land under the war-time mandate to increase meat production. In some instances this persistence resulted in a four-fold increase per owner. Beginning in 1921, the Forest Service reduced individual allotments slightly. A possible reason for not cutting livestock numbers further could have been connected with the observation in the 1924 National Forest Grazing Manual that livestock grazing in forests reduced the fire danger "through utilization of grass and plants. [11]

Beginning with the 1925 calendar year the Forest Service adopted a new policy. For administrative purposes each national forest was divided into grazing districts. Each district forester submitted a tabulation of the number of livestock a given district would carry along with a determination of the length of the grazing period. Local range conditions were to determine the duration of the grazing season. The forest supervisor would then divide the number of cattle, judged to be the maximum a district could carry, among the various range allotments on the most equitable basis. The 1925 policy also directed that district foresters would evaluate the district carrying capacity every ten years. If necessary, that individual could increase or decrease the number of livestock as much as ten percent every five years. [12]

Despite several droughts between the mid-1920s and late 1930s, the Forest Service never severely reduced the number of livestock grazing in the Santa Catalina district east of Tucson. Animals were also allowed on the allotments on a year-round basis until 1939. By that time the forest rangeland had become so devastated that something had to be done. An experiment began with some ranchers by which their grazing period was reduced in essence to a summer season of February 1 to September 15. At the same time they were allowed a larger number of livestock. Since that grazing season eventually proved to have no greater advantage over a year-round grazing period, a new approach began in 1941 with some ranchers. A reduced number of animals was permitted to graze in what amounted to a winter season from January 1 to May 31. With some later adjustment this arrangement came to predominate. Subsequent experiments showed that perennial grass yields were higher on winter range than summer range regardless if the year were wet or dry. [13]

C. Grazing Within and Around Saguaro National Monument

Beginning in the 1870s ranchers began to locate along the drainages of the Rincon Mountains. Manuel Martinez was the first to locate on the Tanque Verde Creek in 1872. By 1880 his cattle herd had grown to 200. Others soon moved near Martinez and raised cattle as well. In 1880 over 1,000 cattle ranged over the public domain around the future monument and Fort Lowell Military Reservation. Although some divested themselves of cattle in the face of pressure by the army, three men, Martinez, Emilio Carrillo, and William Oury, came into prominence on the north side of the present day Rincon Unit of Saguaro National Monument in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Each man probably kept over 400 cattle by the later 1880s. To the south along the Rincon Wash, two ranches developed, one owned by the Telles Brothers and the other by Joseph Mills. Although the Telles' herd grazed primarily in the Rincon Mountains, the other ranchers took their entire herds there during times of drought. The dry period of 1892 and 1893 undoubtedly reduced these cattle. By 1900 Carrillo remained as the primary rancher on the north with Mills and the Telles Brothers on the south. [14]

There were other ranches which developed in the neighborhood of the Rincon Mountains in the late 1870s and early 1880s as well as a herd of army cattle kept on the Fort Lowell Reservation. Walter Vail, who developed the large Empire Ranch in the area between the Santa Rita and Whetstone Mountains in 1876, soon acquired more land with his brother Edward and others. Their operation spread to the area along the Pantano Wash south of the Rincons. By the mid-1880s they purchased the Happy Valley Ranch on the east slope of the Rincons from Charles Page who settled there about 1874. In 1880 there were reportedly 17,000 cattle, horses, and sheep on the outlying ranches near the Rincon Mountains. In that same year after the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Tucson, the Vails were said to have shipped 100 railcars of cattle to California. At the same time Leopoldo Carrillo had a ranch on the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Bayless family ran a sheep ranch in the Redington area. The Army at Fort Lowell kept a herd of cattle in addition to horses. These livestock were usually confined to an area no more than four miles east of the post. [15]

The addition of the Rincon Mountains to the Santa Catalina National Forest in 1907 affected Emilio Carrillo, Joseph Mills and the Telles Brothers. Since their ranches were closest to the new forest addition, they were given a preference for grazing their livestock. They had to obtain a permit to use the forest land and pay for each animal grazed there. This permit reduced the number of livestock they could have in the national forest. For example Emilio Carrillo's permit allowed him to graze only sixty cattle on the forest land. His son Rafael as assigned that same number when he took control of his father's ranch in 1909 and it remained the same until the United States entered the First World War. In 1918 he received an increased permit by which he could graze 265 animals. This figure was raised to 290 in 1920 and then dropped to 269 in 1921 where it remained through 1927 when he sold the ranch. That number of cattle caused the range to be severely overgrazed. [16]

In 1925 the Forest Service defined allotment boundaries on which each rancher was to graze his assigned number of livestock. That area, which presently forms the Rincon Unit of Saguaro National Monument, became wholly or partly included in six allotments - Twin Hills, Tanque Verde, Pantano, Rincon, and two untaken (figure 10). One of the two untaken allotments was assigned as Happy Valley beginning in 1943. Harry Wentworth, who had established his ranch about ten years previously, controlled the Twin Hills area with its fifty-animal permit. Rafael Carrillo had the Tanque Verde Allotment with its 269-livestock permit. Fredric Knipe controlled both the Pantano with its eighty-five-cattle permit and the Rincon on which 348 livestock could graze. In 1926 Melvill Haskell gained the Pantano Allotment when he bought one of Knipe's ranches. Two years later Knipe sold the other ranch to J. Rukin Jelks and with it went the Rincon Allotment. Also in 1928, James Converse purchased the Carrillo property and acquired the Tanque Verde Allotment. In the same year Wentworth died and his wife sold the ranch and cattle to Converse, thereby providing him with the Twin Hills Allotment. [17]

Figure 10. Grazing allotments in Saguaro National Monument 1935, Rincon Mtn. Unit

In March 1933 Saguaro National Monument was created and placed under the United States Forest Service administration. The area containing saguaro cactus on its west side was partly in private ownership or held by the University of Arizona. The remaining eighty percent or more of the monument came from former national forest land. This tract extended across the Tanque Verde Mountains to the east slopes of the Rincon Mountains. Containing few cacti, the vegetation consisted primarily of scrub trees, forest, and grass. The Forest Service had little opportunity to administer the monument since in August of the same year it was transferred to the National Park Service. This situation brought a loud cry from the ranchers whose grazing allotments lay within the monument boundary, for they thought the Park Service conservation policy would mean the end of grazing on the monument. The Forest Service championed the ranchers' cause and asked that all but three sections of the former forest land be returned to that agency. Frank Pinkley, head of the Southwest Monuments unit of the Park Service, also desired to reduce the boundary, but Arno B. Camerer, the Park Service Director, saw no reason to decrease the monument land to just the cacti area. Rather, he thought it was better to make a study of it for its future possibilities. In the meantime the ranchers would be guaranteed that their grazing rights would not be disturbed.

The Park Service inherited part or all of six grazing allotments of which four were being used by three ranches. [18] Two of the four active grazing allotments, Twin Hills and Pantano, were entirely within the national monument. Fifty-four percent of the Tanque Verde allotment fell within the monument and sixty-five percent of the Rincon allotment lay there. This meant that about 520 head of livestock grazed on the former national forest portion of Saguaro National Monument. The University of Arizona and many of the private land owners within the monument leased their land to James Converse. Since the state and private proprietors maintained looser controls than the Forest Service, Converse would run 100 or more cattle on that land depending on the season. The state and University merely charged three cents per acre to lease land with no restriction on the number of livestock that could be grazed.

The multi-year grazing permits held by the three ranchers for Saguaro National Monument expired at the end of March 1935. In that month Forest Service and Park Service personnel discussed the approach to grazing on the monument. Since the Park Service had already stated that it would allow grazing to continue, it was only a matter of which agency would handle the permits. It was decided to allow the Forest Service to continue issuing permits on the basis that the monument formed a part of the overall grazing area regulated by that agency. The Park Service was to receive its proportioned part of the grazing fees. Multi-year permits for the allotments touching the monument would no longer be issued. [19]

Just before the grazing permits expired in 1935, Eduardo Carrillo, who had a ranch near James Converse, applied for a share of the Tanque Verde allotment. The carrying capacity of that allotment had been judged by the Forest Service to be 555 head of cattle on a year-long basis. Converse had been allowed to run 269 livestock. Carrillo evidently felt he should be allowed to add several hundred head of his own cattle. Assistant Forest Supervisor C.W. McKenzie went to look at the proposed subdivision line. Dismayed at the prospect of allowing over 200 more cattle on the allotment, he reported, "this range has been seriously abused in the past and is still in very poor condition. I think we have an excess stock problem here and always will have until the boundary is closed. Increase in permitted numbers should not be permitted until range is properly developed and vegetation has improved materially." Despite that assessment, Forest Supervisor Fred Winn notified the Park Service that, with the issuance of new permits on April 1, 1935, Carrillo would be included in the Tanque Verde allotment. [20]

Drought conditions again began in 1937 with subsequent deterioration of the range. Even so, the ranchers did not voluntarily reduce their herds. Carl Russell, a Park Service employee, visited Saguaro in early 1937 and reported that he was surprised at the large number of cattle grazing on the monument with so little available grass. With rainfall far below normal the next year, the Forest Service made a small downward adjustment of about ten percent in the number of livestock each permittee could run on an allotment. When dry conditions prevailed into 1939, the Forest Service began an experiment with Converse on his portion of the Tanque Verde and the Twin Hills allotments. He could graze twenty-five cattle year-round with an additional 470 between February 1 to September 15. The range was so poor that he chose to graze only the twenty-five cattle. In that year the Park Service began its own reconnaissance of the monument's range conditions. The report noted the miserable condition of the foothill area and in particular the north side of Rincon Wash which was a natural concentration area for watering. The Rincon allotment had always been a problem, for the monument area was basically steep and rocky and thus poor range. As a consequence the cattle would congregate mainly on the national forest portion near the water and overgraze it. [21]

The Converse experiment continued in 1940 and 1941. In 1940 his permit allowed him to graze twenty-five cattle and ten horses all year with 234 head limited to eight and one-half months. The next year the Tanque Verde and Twin Hills allotments were separated. On the former Converse could graze twenty-five cattle year-round and another 150 cattle could be grazed for five months from January 1 to May 31. He could keep thirty cattle and ten horses on Twin Hills for the same five month period. Converse again chose to graze only twenty-five head of livestock each of those years. This reduction in cattle allowed the grass to make a marked improvement as the rains returned in the early 1940s. [22]

The Forest Service continued with year-round grazing on the other allotments. In fact it returned to that system with Converse in 1942. By that date he began to restock his land. He started by pasturing 100 yearling heifers on the part of the monument controlled by the University of Arizona. An inspection of the Rincon Allotment in early 1942 showed that the cattle still gathered in the lower part near water with the result that the perennial grass was being replaced by weeds and annual grass. Since the Forest Service had come to realize that summer grazing caused the worst range damage, the inspector recommended instituting a dual season for the Rincon allotment with a permit for 180 head of cattle. This split season, he thought, should run from January 1 to June 30 and then October 1 through December 31. His advice was not taken and the allowance continued to be 368 head of cattle of which 239 could be kept on the monument. [23]

Several changes in ownership had occurred starting in 1939, and in 1943 the Happy Valley allotment became active. The Pantano allotment passed to Allison Armour in 1939. He was not "conservation minded," so, when he was not permitted to increase the number of cattle he could graze on his allotment, Armour sold to Helen Lichtenstein in 1941. Also in that year Robert Chatfield-Taylor purchased the Jelks property and with it obtained the Rincon Allotment. These land sales prompted a new policy. At the Park Service urging, the Forest Service agreed in 1941 that each time a ranch changed ownership after that time a slight reduction would be made in the number of stock permitted to graze on the allotment. This agreement took effect for the first time in 1945 when Eduardo Carrillo's widow sold the ranch to Joe Lewis Hartzell. The Carrillo livestock permit for a portion of the Tanque Verde allotment was reduced by ten percent for Hartzell. The Happy Valley allotment was awarded to Roderick Mackenzie in 1943. Although the number of cattle permitted to graze there was relatively large, the only portion of the monument it covered was mostly inaccessible and provided forage for only eight to ten cattle on a year-round basis. [24]

The same grazing situation, as had previously prevailed on the allotments, remained through the rest of the 1940s and 1950s with one exception which made a change in the Converse agreement in 1945. The Rincon allotment continued to have a distribution problem with the cattle gathering near water in the lower portions and severely overgrazing it. For several years beginning in 1945, no cattle were grazed on the Pantano allotment, an overgrazed, miserable piece of steep and rocky ground with few watering places. This situation resulted in a vast improvement in that range. By the late 1950s no cattle were grazed there, and this continued from that time until the permit was relinquished in 1971. When James Converse regained all year grazing in 1942 and restocked the Twin Hills and Tanque Verde allotments, they returned to their former state, especially when a drought returned in 1943. The Twin Hills covered part of the saguaro forest in the monument and the presence of cattle continued to cause problems with the growth of new saguaro. The head of Coronado National Forest admitted in 1947 that "all grazing should be excluded if we are to properly protect the cactus area" in the Twin Hills allotment. In 1945 Converse agreed to what was called an "on and off" grazing arrangement by which he would rotate cattle to ease the problems. By this apportionment Converse was allowed forty cattle on the allotment from January 1 to April 30 and 230 head during the month of December. At the same time the state finally began to regulate the number of livestock on its land. Converse was allowed to keep eight cattle between January 1 and April 30 with twenty-six permitted there in December on the area he leased from the state and University. [25]

24. "Summary of Grazing: Saguaro National Monument," Folder, Grazing Allotments, Saguaro National Monument Files; Happy Valley Allotment file, Coronado National Forest Headquarters, Tucson; D.W. Egermayer, Supt. SAGU to Hugh M. Miller, Supt. Southwestern Monuments, June 8, 1941, Box 2366, Folder 901-01 Grazing Saguaro, National Monuments, Saguaro-Sand Dunes 201.06, Central Classified File 1933-1949, Record Group 79, Records of the National Park Service, NA; Memorandum for the Director by Charles A. Richey, Acting Associate Regional Director, Region Three, July 28, 1945, Box 2366, Folder 901-01 Grazing Saguaro, National Monuments, Saguaro - Sand Dunes 201.06, Central Classified File 1933-1949, Record Group 79, Records of the National Park Service, NA.

In 1956 a land exchange plan, which had been in the offing for eight years, came to fruition. By this arrangement the National Park Service acquired the state land and nearly all of that held by the University of Arizona within the monument boundary in return for federal acreage elsewhere in the state. As a result James Converse agreed to end grazing on those sections of state and private land on which he had previously kept livestock. He also consented to having a five-strand barbed wire fence placed along the north monument boundary. As a consequence all grazing finally ended in the giant cactus forest area on the monument. [26]

Several ranches exchanged hands in the 1950s. Henry Jackson bought the X-9 in 1955 while Converse sold his Tanque Verde ranch to Kenneth Kaecker. The ranch controlling the Pantano allotment passed through several owners including Bill Veeck of baseball fame.

Changes in the grazing policy finally began to occur in the 1960s as the same arrangement under which James Converse operated since 1945 was applied to the other allotments. In the early years of that decade, however, any evidence of modification seemed remote as Forest Service inspectors continued to be appalled by the range conditions without making changes to relieve the situation. The Rincon allotment seemed to have the greater problems. When the Forest Service Range Staffman viewed that area in late 1961, he decried the range damage produced by what he thought were too many cattle assigned to too small an area. He suggested that the 320 cattle permit should be reduced by at least seventy-five. He reported that the most suitable grazing areas "have long since been denuded of any perennial forage," and advocated ending grazing during the summer season. His advice was partially taken for the 1962 permit did reduce the livestock by seventy-five. Then in 1964 a seasonal grazing policy was applied allowing cattle on the allotment only from November 1 to April 30; however, the number was raised to 400 of which 242 were allowed on the monument. Although the Forest Service finally made an attempt for improvement, any grazing on the monument still interrupted the basic ecological processes. Much to the Park Service's relief Henry Jackson voluntarily relinquished his permit in January 1968. [27]

Finally, in the 1970s, all legal grazing ended on Saguaro National Monument. The holder of the Pantano permit voluntarily surrendered it in June 1971. This left just the Tanque Verde and Happy Valley allotments with which to contend. Toward the end of 1973 the Forest Service notified the Park Service that as of the end of that year the cooperative agreement would end. That agency no longer would manage grazing permits for the Park Service. With that announcement, the Park Service seized the opportunity to end all grazing. It notified the Tanque Verde and Happy Valley allotment holders that they would be given a special use permit for two years. At the end of that time, on December 31, 1975, those permits would not be renewed. Malcolm Mackenzie acquiesced to the Park Service notification, but Kenneth Kaecker, holder of the Tanque Verde permit did not. He filed a civil suit on March 30, 1976 contending that he had perpetual grazing rights. The Park Service agreed to allow him to continue grazing until a court decision was reached. It required until 1979 to settle the matter. Kaecker lost his suit and grazing was finally thought to have ended on the monument. [28]

By the mid-1970s an increasing number of feral cattle began to appear on the monument especially in the area of the former Rincon allotment. There were an estimated eighty head by 1976. These vestiges from grazing days caused vegetation damage especially in the area around water holes. In May 1976 Malcom MacKenzie of the Happy Valley Ranch captured six bulls. A second attempt was made to remove these cattle in February 1977. Two cattle were captured and five died. Another try was made in 1980 with better success, for thirty-seven head were captured and one died. Finally, in 1984 and 1985 the remaining ones were shot. Consequently it was not until that time that grazing truly ceased. [29]

The Tucson Mountain Unit of Saguaro National Monument escaped any heavy grazing. Only a few of the neighboring ranchers' livestock ever roamed that drier area. There never were any grazing allotments or system of grazing permits established by either national or state governments in that area.

D. The Ecology of Southern Arizona Grassland and the "Old Cow Theory"

The tradition has prevailed that until a century ago southern Arizona contained one of the most lush grasslands in the nation. With the introduction of cattle, the landscape entirely changed. No longer did the rich perennial gramma grasses abound. Grazed almost to extinction, these grasses purportedly were replaced by shrubby vegetation and annual grass not the least of which were creasote bush, snakeweed, burroweed, and especially mesquite. In addition the depletion of perennial grass allowed a rapid run off that cut deep channels in the area's river and stream beds. Can one blame the cow for such supposed changes or were there not the drastic alterations in the terrain as thought?

Over a century ago, it seems apparent, southern Arizona was not a region of lush grass as believed. As now, it was semi-arid and plant life was vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations in rainfall. Even a decrease of several inches of moisture below a seasonal average, which might be considered minor in other parts of the nation, could severely affect vegetation. As a result, there were years before 1880 when the grass remained stunted and brown, and the streams did not flow. Even without the effects of grazing, the droughts of the 1880s and 1890s would surely have greatly affected vegetation. [30]

It would be hard to deny that cattle did not have an impact on the landscape. All one has to do is read the Forest Service range inspection reports to realize that they did, but historically there have been different changes to the Tucson Basin. In the past this area was not a sea of uninterrupted grass without shrubs. Mesquite, Palo Verde, and creasote bush did not appear, as thought, after cattle destroyed the native grass. These plants were always there. A growing population, in fact, caused many of the shrubs to disappear.

Descriptions of the area within and around the present-day western part of the Rincon Unit of Saguaro National Monument by those who saw it in the 1880s and 1890s, indicated the existence of gramma grass along with an abundance of shrubs. There were thick stands of mesquite on the east end of the Fort Lowell Military Reservation and throughout the lower portions of what is now the Rincon Unit. There was a large number of Palo Verde in Township 14 South Range 16 East. These various shrubs were merely a part of the stands which ran in all directions from Tucson. Mesquite, however, was the fuel of Tucson. Slowly those trees were cut in an ever increasing area out from that village as the population grew. Mesquite was being cut on the Fort Lowell Reservation ten years before the military abandoned it. Surveyors working around what became the Rincon Unit of Saguaro noted numerous wood roads in the 1890s. When Edward Vail drove a herd of cattle in the vicinity of the University of Arizona in 1890, he noted that the whole surrounding countryside had been cut over and nothing remained but creasote bush. By 1905 fuel became a problem for the people of Tucson. Every tree over seven inches in diameter had been cut within a ten mile radius of that town by that date. In 1933 when Saguaro was proclaimed a monument nearly every mesquite tree large enough for fuel or fence posts had been taken from the western portion of that area. Mesquite cutting remained a problem well into the 1940s on Saguaro National Monument land. In addition individuals who made lime used large amounts of wood, especially Palo Verde, to fuel their kilns. [31]

Mesquite, Palo Verde, and grass were not the only vegetation in the area. The dense saguaro forest at the base of the Tanque Verde Mountains was impressive. In addition there was plenty of cholla, ocotillo, and creasote bush in the area in the 1880s and 1890s. As a result, cattle, by destroying the native grass, did not provide an environment which invited the growth of shrubs, at least in the Tucson Basin, for a large number and variety of shrubs were there before the introduction of cattle.

Another change which occurred for which cattle were partly to blame was erosion, especially in the cutting of deep channels in the rivers and streams. In the 1880s none of the waterways around Tucson ran through deep cuts and most had no well defined channel. During floods the streams would spread out in shallow sheets across adjacent land. Farmers dug irrigation ditches from the streams to their fields. By 1890 this situation began to change. A dearth of grass due to overgrazing and drought allowed the summer monsoon rains to run off rapidly. As a result streams began to have well defined channels with the larger ones such as the Pantano, Rillito, and Santa Cruz having much greater erosion damage. Again, however, cattle were only partly to blame, for irrigation ditches also aided in channeling streams. [32]

Cattle grazing in the saguaro forest have received the sole blame for trampling on young saguaro as they crowded around and ate the seeds of the shrubs which acted as nurse plants. Thus the saguaro forest diminished in numbers as old cacti died without replacements. Wood cutters and cactus thieves, however, should be included on the list of those who caused the reduced quantity of saguaro. The two main shrubs which acted as nurse plants, mesquite and palo verde, were much sought after as fuel. In the process of cutting those plants, the men would not only kill young saguaro, but they would rob the cactus of necessary nurse vegetation. By the turn of the century it became fashionable for the growing Anglo population to remove saguaro and other cacti for replanting in their yards. This practice remained a problem long after the monument was created as even then thousands of these plants were stolen.

The Tucson Mountain Unit of Saguaro National Monument appeared much the same a century ago as it does today. It escaped much of the impact of man and livestock that affected the Rincon Unit. Records indicate that shrubs and cacti abounded in that area. In 1905 the Arizona Copper Mining Company, which began development on the Uncle Sam and Josephine mines and others some two miles west of the Old Yuma Mine, claimed to have a large wood supply. The area surrounding its mines for a distance of over twenty square miles was said to be covered with mesquite and palo verde. Surveyors also recorded the presence of dense desert growth. Some wood cutting did occur by miners and by those who needed fuel for lime kilns. Because it was an area with less grass and water, settlement was slow in reaching the area other than scattered miners. As a result fewer livestock grazed on that public domain. No grazing allotments were ever established by any government agency. Soon after homesteading began to encroach on the area in the 1920s, a large portion of the west slope of the Tucson Mountains was removed from settlement and preserved as a county park. [33]

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 23-Jun-2005